Critics say religious freedom bill in Kansas House discriminates against gay people

A bill touted by its supporters Thursday as a way to keep government from infringing on religious freedom was criticized by opponents as a deceptive way to discriminate against people who are gay.

House Bill 2260 would prohibit government from denying the exercise of religion unless there was a compelling government interest.

Joel Oster, senior litigation counsel for the Alliance Defense Fund, said the legislation is needed to prevent government from forcing people to go against their religious beliefs. He cited an instance in New Mexico where a photographer was ruled in violation of state law because she refused to photograph a same-sex wedding.

The bill was also supported by the Kansas Catholic Conference and Concerned Women for America of Kansas.

But opponents of the bill said that the way it was written it would allow discrimination based on sexual orientation and gender identity.

And they said the legislation would nullify local ordinances, such as the one in Lawrence that prohibits landlords, employers and others from discriminating against people based on their sexual orientation.

During a hearing before the House Judiciary Committee, state Sen. Marci Francisco, D-Lawrence, spoke against a major part of the bill.

“I do not believe that our Kansas Constitution and our Kansas statutes should be used to condone discrimination on the basis of an individual exercising their freedom of religion. I would hope that you not keep this clause in the bill,” Francisco said.

Tom Witt, executive director of the Kansas Equality Coalition, said he believes the impetus for the bill was the recent passage in Manhattan of an ordinance that adds sexual orientation and a new definition of gender identity to its anti-discrimination policy.

By Scott Rothschild

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